The Bronx Crusaders


I had a period that lasted less than a year when I was considered a hot, emerging screenwriter. Of course, as soon as Beat Street came out, that myth evaporated because even though the movie did ok, the script was awful, not that they used a word of my dialogue—in fact they didn’t keep anything but the characters’ names.

But there were a few months when I got to know what it feels like to be constantly courted for one project or another. I started working on a couple of treatments before Beat Street came out, one was the story of Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers that I was working on with a young black director, and the other was a comedy about the South Bronx, featuring a parody of Curtis Sliwa battling a local crack-head drug lord.

At the time, I was working on Art After Midnight with art director Flick Ford, and Flick had a business partner named Rob Taub, who was also a comedian who was dying to work on a project with me. Curtis Sliwa had just emerged at the time and I thought his organization, The Guardian Angels, was ripe material for satire. Curtis created an unarmed citizen militia that began riding the NYC subways in uniforms to make the passengers feel safe again and provide a free emergency response team. Before that he managed a McDonald’s in the South Bronx. Curtis turned out to be quite savvy about manipulating public events to promote his all-volunteer force. Who knows, maybe Curtis even inspired me a little, because within in a few years I’d create my own emergency response volunteer force, The Freedom Fighters, the first hemp legalization organization in America, founded by me and Jack Herer just three years later.

Imagine my surprise when five years later, I end up going on the road to major college campuses for a few years debating Sliwa on the issue of marijuana legalization, which he was against naturally. Curtis’s favorite phrase was “sensory mind wing ding,” which was his term for a hippie pothead. We got along great as Curtis is a charming guy and not exactly the Archie Bunker character he plays on stage and when he’s on the radio, although he can lapse into one of those rants anytime, it is often mostly for comic effect.

The cops really hated Sliwa, though. In fact, some of them hated him so much they hired the mob to rub him out. The hit was supposed to take place while he was locked in the back of a taxi cab and everything went off as planned, except Curtis jumped around so much in the back seat they only managed to plug him a few times in the gut. Somehow, he got out of that cab and got to hospital and spent years trying to track down the mobsters and cops who set him up. My impression of Curtis certainly improved after he showed his mettle in this incident, although the media tried to play it like maybe Curtis invented the whole story? Yeah, sure, Curtis shot himself a few times so he could blame it on the cops? Not very likely.

But that film script, Bronx Crusaders? That went out to Hollywood where the bigwigs said “it’s not funny.” See, Len Bias had just died and coke was now considered something you couldn’t joke about, even though I always thought cokeheads were pretty funny. The execs were all rushing into treatment programs. I mean, Cheech and Chong made millions poking fun at potheads, why can’t we have a classic cokehead comedy to match up against Scarface?

Unfortunately, that media company Flick and Rob started was working with all the big corporations at the time and initially very successful, but didn’t survive the rapid technological changes that were on the horizon. In fact, the failure of that business created a cascade of tragedies, the foremost of which was the breakup of Flick’s first marriage. I even trace the dissolution of the wonderful Soul Assassins, who would have been famous had Little Steven’s Underground Garage only been around at the time, with that same spiral of doom, as John McNaughton would say.

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